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Zionism, After Miss Porter’s

After an anti-Semitic incident at boarding school, I denied being Jewish for years. Israel is changing things.

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I was 15 years old when I left home for the first time. I had been accepted to the prestigious Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, Ct., with promises of impressing college admission offices and future employers and, of course, the unshakable identity of being a “Porter’s Girl.” I excelled socially that first year, meeting girls from backgrounds very different from my own. I became loosely involved with the Jewish club at school, although I found it strange that the faculty leader was an active Jews for Jesus participant. My activity in the club waned the following year when I received numerous remarks from other students that put down the club, its members, and its purpose.

During my junior year, my second year, I lived in a dormitory with a girl who was Haitian-American. I never thought twice about living with someone who so obviously came from a different culture than me. In fact, I thought it was pretty cool. But near Thanksgiving of that year, my roommate and I had an altercation and she ultimately moved out of the room. What ensued perhaps changed the course of my life.

My roommate spoke negatively about me and my Judaism to the other students at Miss Porter’s. I returned to my room one afternoon after field hockey practice to find a swastika on my door, my room broken into, and possessions stolen and broken. Frightened, I called my parents. They threatened legal action against the school if the situation was not addressed. It was not. The anti-Semitic sentiment and harassment continued until June when I left for the summer.

A letter arrived at my home at the end of the summer addressed to my parents. It described me as delinquent, “intimidating to other students,” and a poor fit for the school. My standing as a student at Miss Porter’s was revoked. It was two days before my senior year of high school began. I scrambled to get together the appropriate paperwork to attend the local public high school, where I knew nobody.

I left for college in 2005 and attended Denison University, a small liberal-arts college in central Ohio. Like Miss Porter’s, there was a very small population of Jews at Denison, and Hillel was commonly known as being “uncool” to be a part of. For four years I denied being Jewish to anyone who asked. I desperately wanted to be a part of a good sorority, and being Jewish would not help me during my rush. It’s likely that by the time I graduated in 2009, most people who knew me did not know that I was Jewish.

I was what some people might call a “self-hater.” Please bear in mind that during some of the most impressionable years of my life, I was a part of a community that was intolerant of my identity. It was not until years later, when I made the decision to become a registered nurse and attended nursing school, that I discovered people who not only liked the fact that I was Jewish, but were curious about what that meant. I have patients who are Jewish, and with my background, I feel that I am able to communicate therapeutically and provide for them a sense of comfort that a non-Jewish nurse might not be able to.

Birthright is changing my life. As I write this, I am on a bus with 48 other Jews, perhaps some of whom have stories similar to mine. Many of these people know far more about their Jewish roots than I do, and some of them know less. We’re getting to know each other, we’re laughing together, we’re crying next to one another at Yad Vashem. Just as my experience at Miss Porter’s altered the trajectory of my life, I am finally changing course once again. And this time I’m headed to Tel Aviv.

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Thank you for sharing such personal memories and reflections

Thank you. I hope that the strength in your Jewish identity that is growing from your Birthright experience will help you shake off the “self-hating” identification and give you the chance to expand your Jewish community. We desperately need young Jews like you!

yevka says:

Israel is and has changed things. Israel is wafting a dismal draft that I feel is not for the bright better, and its gloom settles on us all steeping the air with its ugliness day after dull day.

yevka says:

 http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4243882,00.html

LeahElisheva says:

Hi Sandra, I found your article to be incredibly moving. Thank you so much for your bravery, and I am so glad to hear that you are having such a positive Birthright experience! What happened to you at school is despicable.

Apparently not for all of us yevka. 

You though, have a specific bone to pick with the Jewish state in general, and birthright in particular. 

But rather than look in the wider mirror, and face the reality to the opportunity that Birthright provides, and how Jews can benefit from the experience, seems to have passed you by. 

Sandra’s anecdotal story shreds your recent spate of nasty links. 

mjwsatx says:

Sandra,

Never allow others to define who you are or how you feel about yourself and your faith.  You have a deep and rich heritage.  Get to know it and love it both in Eretz Yisroal and back home within Am Yisroal.  Let this trip be the spark that lights the Jewish flame within your heart.  I know that it happened for me on a trip to Israel.  A mere 40 years ago.  And it is still burning brightly. Am Yisroal Chai!

mjwsatx says:

Feh. If you want to see a “dismal draft” go to Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Jordan and most other Muslim countries.  Israel may not be perfect, but in context that small nation is a bright light of freedom and genius.  Go back and tell your professors to look elsewhere for the dismal draft.

Fiametta says:

As a graduate of Miss Porter’s School, I found your story to be incredibly disturbing.  I attended in the 70′s, as a financial aid student from the Midwest.  I wasn’t Jewish, but there were certainly Jewish students among my friends there, and I never once heard that they had suffered any bigotry or mistreatment from other students or from faculty.  Moreover, though I was different in various ways from the general run of MPS students, I wasn’t mistreated either.  I didn’t absolutely adore Farmington, as we called the place then, but discrimination of any kind was not among the reasons that I felt my experience wasn’t entirely what it could have been.  Basically, I am glad I attended.

Your story and the bizarre bullying incident that occurred a few years ago and resulted in a lawsuit have caused me to wonder what’s become of my alma mater.  My husband is Jewish, and I will show him your experience quite shamefacedly, because I’ve always spoken reasonably well of MPS.  I may make some inquiries of other alumnae in order to find out whether they have heard of other incidents within the past 10 years or so that suggest a problematic atmosphere has developed at the school.  If one has, I’d like to know why.

Fiametta says:

As a graduate of Miss Porter’s School, I found your story to be incredibly disturbing.  I attended in the 70′s, as a financial aid student from the Midwest.  I wasn’t Jewish, but there were certainly Jewish students among my friends there, and I never once heard that they had suffered any bigotry or mistreatment from other students or from faculty.  Moreover, though I was different in various ways from the general run of MPS students, I wasn’t mistreated either.  I didn’t absolutely adore Farmington, as we called the place then, but discrimination of any kind was not among the reasons that I felt my experience wasn’t entirely what it could have been.  Basically, I am glad I attended.

Your story and the bizarre bullying incident that occurred a few years ago and resulted in a lawsuit have caused me to wonder what’s become of my alma mater.  My husband is Jewish, and I will show him your experience quite shamefacedly, because I’ve always spoken reasonably well of MPS.  I may make some inquiries of other alumnae in order to find out whether they have heard of other incidents within the past 10 years or so that suggest a problematic atmosphere has developed at the school.  If one has, I’d like to know why.

Fiametta says:

As a graduate of Miss Porter’s School, I found your story to be incredibly disturbing.  I attended in the 70′s, as a financial aid student from the Midwest.  I wasn’t Jewish, but there were certainly Jewish students among my friends there, and I never once heard that they had suffered any bigotry or mistreatment from other students or from faculty.  Moreover, though I was different in various ways from the general run of MPS students, I wasn’t mistreated either.  I didn’t absolutely adore Farmington, as we called the place then, but discrimination of any kind was not among the reasons that I felt my experience wasn’t entirely what it could have been.  Basically, I am glad I attended.

Your story and the bizarre bullying incident that occurred a few years ago and resulted in a lawsuit have caused me to wonder what’s become of my alma mater.  My husband is Jewish, and I will show him your experience quite shamefacedly, because I’ve always spoken reasonably well of MPS.  I may make some inquiries of other alumnae in order to find out whether they have heard of other incidents within the past 10 years or so that suggest a problematic atmosphere has developed at the school.  If one has, I’d like to know why.

Sandra,
I’m saddened to read your story but not surprised, particularly by your experiences in Ohio. My brothers and I were the only Jews in a rural Ohio school system. We moved there from western New York state. We experienced ostracism and blatant anti-Semitism.

It took me a long time to embrace myself as a Jew, even though I went to Northwestern, where there were plenty of Jews. I celebrated my adult bat mitzvah at age 41. But well into my 20s, I wanted little to do with Judaism.

Now, I’m fully engaged in the Jewish community in my town. Birthright did not exist when I was your age. I’m so glad it is helping you find your way as a Jew.

Best,
Linda K. Wertheimer
Ps. An essay I wrote about my experiences in rural Ohio placed in two recent contests, including one in Moment magazine. You can read the bigger of the two essays here if you’re interested. It’s called Jew Girl. http://www.lindakwertheimer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Linda-K.pdf

Sandra,
I’m saddened to read your story but not surprised, particularly by your experiences in Ohio. My brothers and I were the only Jews in a rural Ohio school system. We moved there from western New York state. We experienced ostracism and blatant anti-Semitism.

It took me a long time to embrace myself as a Jew, even though I went to Northwestern, where there were plenty of Jews. I celebrated my adult bat mitzvah at age 41. But well into my 20s, I wanted little to do with Judaism.

Now, I’m fully engaged in the Jewish community in my town. Birthright did not exist when I was your age. I’m so glad it is helping you find your way as a Jew.

Best,
Linda K. Wertheimer
Ps. An essay I wrote about my experiences in rural Ohio placed in two recent contests, including one in Moment magazine. You can read the bigger of the two essays here if you’re interested. It’s called Jew Girl. http://www.lindakwertheimer.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Linda-K.pdf

yevka says:

 Well what can one say to willful blindness and romantic illusion but to suggest a new up to date map and better directions and a more focused pair of glasses with new prescription lens.

Jacob Arnon says:

The ever present and ever hating Yevka (is that her or his real name) is at it again. 

Yevka you sound like a brainwashed antisemitic loony.  

Natan79 says:

I thought that was 50 years ago. I was shocked to read it was so recent. Miss Porter’s School, yeah, where they show Jews their place. Bastards! Where they have donkey brains, they show you “manners”.

Jacob Arnon says:

Now, “Yevka” is playing Ophthalmologist. 

Most people here don’t have “romantic illusions” about Israel. It’s a real place with good and bad people like anywhere else in the world and a lot better than most. 

“Yevka” seems t have psychotic illusions that the Jewish State is worse than every country in the world including the former Soviet Union which judging from her chosen ID,  she wants us to believe she is from. 

Probably comes from a Soviet family that collaborated with the Nazis. Either that or she learned her Stalinist like antisemitism from the propaganda dished out at school there. 

Jacob Arnon says:

It’s not just that one school, Natan. I think that the younger generation is reinventing antisemitism and we deny it at our peril.

Natan79 says:

Here you argue with us. In your darling Arab countries, they’d chop off your head for talking back to men like you do here. They’d do it in a plaza while bystander big-belly mustachioed men would take videos of you with their iPhones while munching on the shwarma. So isn’t it better among Jews, yevka?

Natan79 says:

You’re right, I agree. But just look at Kate Windsor, the headmistress of the school. You can tell right away from reading her biography that she’s an intellectual zero, a tight-lipped prim doll with sub-mediocre brains. 

In high school I had inspiring science teachers, men and women – they were smart and you could tell their priority was to teach us understand the world. Well, you can tell Kate Windsor’s goal is to teach the girls to be well-mannered stoic bimbos for Wall Street criminals, to essentially become high-class hookers. This doesn’t surprise me – but the lack of discrimination of Shrago’s parents does. 

Regardless of the antisemitism, Miss Porter’s is a pricey shithole. Women can be anything in the world – neurosurgeons, science Nobel laureates, painters, pilots, mothers. Well Miss Porter’s only sets them to socialites – or mothers, sure, because they’ll be capable of little else of distinction after the hazing and knitting. 

Appropriately, the Miss Porter’s girls who keep the tradition call themselves the Oprichniki and shout German military commands. Why don’t they call themselves the SS and do away with the veiled allusions?     

yevka says:

 http://blogs.timesofisrael.com/were-back-return-of-the-social-protest/

yevka says:

 Jacob, it is not I who is “playing” or shuffling, but your glib self. I see that you are not of a serious mind and are a bit of a blind fool. This being so you may project any series of social stereotype that may sillily suit you and play them at a dumb whim in tandem, however they scarcely subtract from the obvious fact that you proudly possess a tin ear and need glasses with great demanding urgency.

Don’t feed the troll…

Willful blindness?Let’s see, Sandra speaks of dealing with blatant anti-Semitism at high-school.  This apparently impacted her sufficiently to the point where she felt the need to hide the fact that she was a Jew at college (supposedly one of those bastions of tolerance and progressivism). 

Now, surrounded by not only fellow travellers who are Jews, but an entire nation who’s population is uniquely a Jewish majority, she is able to overcome the past hatred and violence to regain pride in herself and her people. 

Sorry to burst your bubble yevka, but that’s neither willful blindness or romantic illusion, but a wonderful correction to a world that seems to continue to have a problem with Jews.

I would suggest you bring your own hateful mindset up to date and buy a new pair of glasses for yourself.   Yours seems to be tinged with a severe case of Jew-hating myopia. 

Yeah,

There’s a solid movie plot woven into that story. 

Jacob Arnon says:

Typical Stalinist Yevka reply.  Short on facts and long on antisemitic invective. 

Yevka why are you posting on a Jewish pro Israel website since you hate them so much?

Are you so stupid as to believe that anyone here believes your hate filled comments. 

Go post on some anti-Zionist website bigot.

Jacob Arnon says:

“Regardless of the antisemitism, Miss Porter’s is a pricey shithole.”

Maybe so, but let’s not blame the victim here. 

Jacob Arnon says:

“Then, somewhere along the line, everything unraveled. By her own admission, she skipped classes and cheated on an art history test. And while the school cited those transgressions when it expelled Miss Bass in November, her side of the story is much darker: in a lawsuit against Miss Porter’s, Miss Bass says she was driven to a nervous breakdown by constant harassment from a secret society of girls who call themselves the Oprichniki, taking their nickname from a 16th-century Russian torture squad.”

No wonder Stalinist antisemites like Yevka love that school. 

Jacob Arnon says:

Another irrelevant  link by the antisemite, Yevka.

As a parent of Miss Shrago I can add that she left out numerous other incidents of anti-semitism that occurred during her time at Miss Porter’s. One that comes to mind took place in an English class:
some of the students acted out a play they had written where they made fun of the Holocaust. The teacher did not even respond to the incident until I got involved. At that point the teacher defended the anti-semitic behavior by describing it as “black humor.” Unbelievable.

Rebecca Shrago says:

Bravo to my little sister for writing this brave piece! I am so proud of you and so glad that birthright gave you an opportunity to “right the course.” Am Yisrael CHAI!

I found your story to be un respectful and disturbing. Miss Porter’s School is a warm, intellectual place where all girls are given precious opportunities to explore their interests as well as their personalities. Like Fiametta explained, I have never once heard of a student being mistreated from being Jewish. Nor have I heard students being mistreated from other students or faculty. Of course, you have your opinion and I have mine but it was unnecessary to spread it around the internet and blame everything on the school. The school tries its best for all girls to fit in and I had never been so impressed by a school than Miss Porter’s. All the students are respectful and friendly as well as the faculty. They talk kindly of the school, the students and the many wonderful experiences they had while attending. It isn’t fair for everyone here to hear your side of the story when there must be many other girls with a different view. I’m sorry you had to experience being mistreated but I’m having a hard time thinking about it. Natan79 and Claudia was also contributing false and un respectful stories. When you attend Miss Porter’s School, you learn to be respectful and to study all cases in different views. Only people with no manners and people who haven’t learned these skills speak rudely about something that they don’t have a clue about. Obviously, you have to go to the school to fully take in and understand what Sandra is talking about.

As to Natan79′s harsh criticism on Ms. Windsor, you are just rude to judge someone that you barely know. Knowing Ms. Windsor, she is an intelligent, respected and kind woman. I wouldn’t be surprised if you didn’t attend a prestigious school like Miss Porter’s but Ms. Windsor does her best to provide every girl comfort and warmth in the school’s campus. To prove that she’s smart, she has gone to a prestigious high school herself, graduating from many universities including Rochester, Columbia, UPenn and Notre Dame. Maybe you could provide proof of why she is un “intellectual zero” before you send it out on the internet? Before becoming the Head of Miss Porter’s she was also the Head of the Sage School, providing her previous experience. Miss Porter’s is not a “pricey sh.thole,” actually it’s the opposite. The School provides the financial need for all students who are in need. There are numerous scholarships including the ‘Oprah Winfrey Prep School Scholars’ where Oprah Winfrey herself, contributes more than $2 million every year for five students to attend the bright school with a full scholarship including the tuition, room and board, travel, a laptop, and other miscellaneous expenses. Oprah has been so impressed by the change in her niece after Chrishaunda attended Porter’s. Nate, you also say that Porter’s only sets their graduates into socialites or mothers? That proves how little you know about the school. Here, at Miss Porter’s, each individual girl is academically challenged as well as challenged by extracurriculars(including sports). Miss Porter’s have placed in top rankings for sports through the years– 1st in New England Crew, first in New England’s Volleyball Class B Championships, 4th and Squash and the list goes on and on. Have you seen the number of the Notable Alumnae? Maybe you should. Check it out on Wikipedia or google it. The list includes Alice Hamilton, Julia Lathrop, Polly Allen Mellen, Jacqueline Onassis, Lilly Pulitzer, Dorothy Bush Koh(from the Bush family), Dorothy Walker Bush(from the Bush Family), Mamie Gummer(daughter of actress Meryl Streep) and many more. As for the girls who keep the tradition, they are called the “keepers.” They play a big role in the community because traditions keep the school together as a fun community. Of course, you wouldn’t know what these traditions are if you haven’t been to Miss Porter’s. They are delightful and nothing that you’d imagine. Please do your research before judging things.

That bullying incident that occurred a long time ago still confuse me and I can’t believe any of it. However, I know the students that attended the school when it happened and they were told to respect Tatum and sympathize what happened. It obviously must’ve been hard on her but again, only her side has been shown to the audience. The press and the spot light was also hard on the school and students.

Again, I don’t know what happened or what the situation was when you had this happen to you, but I will also ask the Miss Porter’s department if they have ever heard of this incident. However, the atmosphere at Miss Porter’s is not problematic, and it is a perfect place for young, intelligent girls to grow up in. In addition, I had and still have many Jewish friends from Miss Porter’s(one of them is my closest friend, actually) and they have never felt the need to hide their identity. The Jewish Student Union there helps everyone feel comfortable around campus. All the girls at the school feel great about expressing themselves but I’m saddened to hear that that wasn’t the case with you. However, the school does personal one hour long interviews with every Senior and New Girl to improve the school.

To close up, the academic department as well as all the faculty get together for a meeting before letting a student go. They take into account all the different sides of the story and make a fair decision. You shouldn’t blame the school for making that decision. I’m sure that they discussed and did everything before making the right decision for the situation, especially if you were a junior. Hopefully after discussing with the department, I hope to know more about your story.

I completely agree with Anne. Sandra, your case may be the only case like that at Miss Porter’s School. I’m sure the faculty respected you and treated you fairly along with the other students. They made a decision that they thought was fair after many discussions. Although it may feel that it was harsh and unfair to you, you should still respect Miss Porter’s. I visited the school many times and hopefully my daughter will be selected to attend, but everyone shouldn’t think that because Sandra had this experience, they will too. That is completely untrue. I’ve rarely heard about a student who had a bad experience after MPS. I have many friends who have graduated and are successful doctors and lawyers giving back to the school by volunteering and donating. Miss Porter’s is a prestigious and selective school that does its best to select the unique potential scholars who will contribute positively to the school’s environment. The admissions department obviously saw something great in Sandra, accepting her a place, but I don’t think because you have been expelled that you should rant about the school so negatively. You should’ve known that the school was strict– two cuts and you’re out.
However, I’m sorry that you felt that you needed to hide your true identity. Nobody should feel that way. I also hope to know about your story more by talking to the members of MPS. As far as I know, most of the alumnae are really proud that they have graduated the school and adore the community. Maybe you should talk about this story or share this blog with the Miss Porter’s department. They’ll probably offer you more explanation.

And everyone, please take a look this article before commenting negatively and blaming the school.
Article: http://www.jewishworldreview.com/0104/jews_wasps.php3

“Academically, I have never been challenged like this before,” Bekka said. “It is an amazing school. You can take really interesting classes and the teachers are incredible. Academically, there is nothing like it.. they are very supportive” -Bekka Ross Russell, a Jewish Student at MPS
Bekka has embraced Judaism, becoming one of the most active students in the Jewish Student Union. She holds two board positions on her local National Federation of Temple Youth (NFTY) chapter, and next summer will participate in a semester of study in Israel, for which she will receive credit at Miss Porter’s. She also has started a Hebrew class that meets at the school one night a week.

I was a good friend of Sandra’s (then known as Sandy) at Miss Porter’s our sophomore year. We lost touch after she left the school, and when I saw this article I was shocked and saddened. During our sophomore year I never got a sense from Sandra or her family that she was being bullied for being Jewish, or heard of anything like this happening. I have shared this article with my Porter’s friends and all of them have reacted with shock as well.

It is sad that this is going to paint a tainted picture of the school for people who have never heard of it or met anyone who went there, because for every story someone writes like this, there are hundreds of Ancients (of all different backgrounds) who will tell you a very different and very positive story about their experience at Porter’s. From my own experience MPS was a welcoming, diverse, and inclusive community and I am proud to have graduated from there. I wish Sandra the best and I’m happy to hear that she is doing well, but this story does not fit with my experience or picture of the school.

Sam Shrago says:

Sandy,

I found this piece
both heartbreaking and empowering. You faced constant adversity to being a Jew, yet finally found comfort and
purpose in your career and travels to Israel.

Your piece was not a criticism of Miss
Porter’s School, but rather a testimony to the mistreatment of Jewish people.
Those of you who have defended Miss Porter’s school do not represent the entire
student body, so your stories don’t reflect upon Sandra’s experience.

Sandy, may this
excellent piece be an example of how a driven individual can redeem his/herself
from adverse circumstances. God bless you.

Sam Shrago says:

Sandy,

I found this piece
both heartbreaking and empowering. You faced constant adversity to being a Jew, yet finally found comfort and
purpose in your career and travels to Israel.

Sandy’s piece had to
do with embracing her identity as a Jew. The piece was not a criticism of Miss
Porter’s School, but rather a testimony to the mistreatment of Jewish people.
Those of you who have defended Miss Porter’s school do not represent the entire
student body, so your stories don’t reflect upon Sandra’s experience.

Sandy, may this
excellent piece be an example of how a driven individual can redeem his/herself
from adverse circumstances. God bless you.

Bracha Bennett says:

Kol HaKavod Sunshine! Never let anyone else make you feel as though there is something wrong with you for being Jewish. You deserve better than that.

Bracha Bennett says:

Kol HaKavod Sunshine! Never let anyone else make you feel as though there is something wrong with you for being Jewish. You deserve better than that.

Bekka Ross Russell says:

I am extremely confused by this article – I was also a friendly acquaintance of Sandy and the head of the Jewish Student Union at the time and 100% certain that we would have heard about ANY of these incidents taking place – it would have been a HUGE scandal, but there was never even a whisper. I never experienced the slightest HINT of antisemitism at MPS. In addition, the article gets a few things wrong – the head of the JSU was not a “Jew for Jesus,” but did participate in a messianic temple that had 100% Jewish practice (keeping kosher, keeping Shabbat, living a conservative/conservadox Jewish lifestyle) and was deeply opposed to proselytizing. I may be wrong, but this seems similar to the Sophie Bass situation – being kicked out for misbehavior, and then claiming that they were “driven” out by persecution. Sandy, what is going on here?

Also, to those questioning Miss Porters’ academic credentials – students from MPS average 89th percentile on the SATS, It has consistently been ranked as one of the best private schools in the country by US News and World Report and other ranking agencies, based on SAT scores, AP scores, and college admissions rate. There are plenty of things to criticize about MPS – but antisemitism and lack of academic rigor are absolutely not on that list.

Kate Windsor has a Princeton undergraduate degree and a doctorate from Penn, in addition to being respected as an innovator in education. Maybe you read the wrong biography.

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Zionism, After Miss Porter’s

After an anti-Semitic incident at boarding school, I denied being Jewish for years. Israel is changing things.

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